I was very excited to get my hands on this book so I could see whether Rob Bell wrote a book about truth or some abstract theology he has been known to throw around at times. After I read Love Wins, I was even more disappointed than I originally expected.
Let me get some minor stuff out of the way. Anyone could easily finish this book in a three-hour sitting. The font and spacing are huge. I wish his publishing company didn’t charge $23 for a book that should be only 120 pages long (at least Amazon sells it for $11!). Do I recommend reading this book, though? Not really.
The latest installment in Bell’s writings is undoubtedly about heaven and hell. It is also about human choice. I’d actually say the majority of this book emphasizes the power of our choices. Sadly, the One who doesn’t make a memorable impact on the book is God. Bell doesn’t keep the central focus on God or what his love is like (at least until the end), but he seems to make it clear that because of what Jesus did we can always choose God and make this world a better place. He actually made Jesus sound more like a vehicle to living a good, fulfilled life than a desperately-needed savior. And while Bell tells God’s desires for humanity throughout the book, I couldn’t help but feel that God himself was more like a distant motif here, while we are in the spotlight.
Time for the big issues: In terms of heaven and hell, Bell proposed that we have both heaven and hell here and now, depending on the life we choose to live. We can make heaven on earth now, or hell. And based on our choices, we will either spend the rest of eternity with God, or spend some temporary point in time in Hell. While Bell has denied being a universalist in several interviews, I don’t really know whether he thinks hell is an eternal place or not. In Love Wins he uses verses a la 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 to argue that hell isn’t a place where people who turn against God go, but rather God uses it as a refining time to show people how much they need him. Then, when they choose to love God, they will go to heaven. So he never explicitly states so but heavily implies people can choose their eternal fate post-mortem. Again, the book focuses mostly on our choices as being crucial, not God Himself. Christian salvation comes from God (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 6:44), but that vibe is not made apparent in this book.
While God seems distant, Bell uses the Word quite a bit to support his premises. It’s too bad he quoted a TON of verses out of context, like Ezekiel 16:35, Romans 5:18-21, Zechariah 9-10, Isaiah 19:22, and so many more. The vast majority of the verses cited in the book, when taken in their right context, don’t support Bell’s ideas. He takes the verses which speak about salvation, restoration, and eternal life, and applies them to everyone, when really they only apply/applied to Israel or the Church.
Since we are talking about context, while reading I noted that Bell made many mistakes with the Greek he used in the book and gave a false impression of early church fathers, like Origen, regarding their views on universalism (see here and here for specific criticisms of Bell’s use of Greek and Biblical history). In particular, he really screwed up interpreting a letter from Martin Luther to Hans von Rechenberg in 1522. I think what makes me so upset about that is that Bell denies being a Biblical scholar or theologian, but he uses exegetical methods (horribly) to prove his points. It’s like a guy in feudal Japan who denies being a samurai or ninja or having any sword skills, yet he wields a large katana at his side daily. Huh?
At one point, Bell says he is contributing to the ‘discussion’ around this topic, but it is quite clear that as the book progresses he becomes more obstinate about the ideas he throws around. I understand people can get righteous in a discussion, but by the end of the book he labels certain views of God as simply wrong or incorrect.
I will say he does mention the cross and resurrection, but only as important for what they do for us. As aforementioned he merely describes God’s love, not mentioning the loving Father behind it all as the centerpiece until the very end (even at this point, using some stories and verses still out of context). When he did talk about God, he mostly decried common views about God sending people to hell, saying that love doesn’t work that way. He simply kept saying throughout that ‘love wins’. As the mantra rears its head more and more with each page turn, it’s evident that fuzzy feelings take precedent here over the logos of Scripture. But that’s all right. God doesn’t torment anyone forever. Would God really do that? He loves everyone, and love wins. That’s what Rob wants you to think anyway. He mentions in the book keeping certain paradoxes together, like God’s love and justness, for their dire and eternal value. However, the way God’s justice is laid out in Scripture conflicts with many of Rob Bell’s arguments in Love Wins.
To top it all off, Bell’s citation skills were absolutely unprofessional. Whenever he cited Scripture, he stated only the book and chapter, not the actual verse(s). Remember how I said he talked about Greek exegesis and Church History? No footnotes at all. Not a single source. Honest blunder or intentional tactic, it’s all-around sketchy. Unfortunately, people are dumb enough to assume he’s an expert about his content.
At this point, I’ve said about everything I can find wrong with the book. One of the links above is Kevin DeYoung’s review, which is very thorough about the specific mistakes I’ve mentioned and more.
Bottom Line: I’m going to use a quote from Rob Bell on this one:
“What the Gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story.” (pg. 171)
Um, isn’t life about how we fit into God’s story?
Anyway, there you have it – the book centers on our story, with our eternal destiny being limited merely to our choices. Jesus opened up the door, but we get to decide and make up our own faith. Not God. Love wins! *Thumbs up*
This is a dangerous book for new Christians. Bell asks a lot of questions, as is expected. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. However, it is easy to lose sight of his assumptions laid deep in the questions and be mislead by others. If you’ve read Velvet Elvis, that is a book you can at least wrestle with easily. I hate to say this, but Bell spreads some false doctrine here. I don’t suggest picking this one up unless you don’t mind researching sources and have a solid, solid grasp on Scripture.
On a lighter note, Donald Miller’s review of this book is the best on the Internet!
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived